Feeding cattle has always been an integral part of the farming enterprise at North Netherscales, Skelton, Penrith.

“We have always got plenty of feed barley on the farm – we grow 100 acres ourselves and we process it for other people locally and buy it in, so we have always bought in store cattle from the auction to eat it,” said Alan Dickinson, the third generation of the family to have the tenancy on the Hutton Estate farm.

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“We started with the first batch of 30 Wagyu cross stores in the back end of 2018 as we thought there was more of a margin to make with the Wagyus than the continental store cattle,” he added.

Alan and his wife, Anne, along with two employees run 260 acres – 145 acres from the Hutton Estate and a further 70 owned and 45 acres on a farm business tenancy from a neighbouring estate.

Now, they buy 200-250 Wagyu stores a year at 20 months of age, keeping them for seven months to a year until they are finished, with up to 150 on the farm at any one time.

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They also have 16,000 laying hens and a 300-ewe flock of Texels, Mules and Herdwicks, finishing all the lambs. Their son, Chris, who is a business consultant, runs his own goat meat enterprise from the farm.

“We have got the shed space for cattle. They contribute muck to the land and it is less stressful than calving cows and they are now a major part of our cash flow.

“It’s quite exciting to be involved with something a bit different and producing what is being marketed as a premium product. We can’t criticise working with Warrendale in any way – it’s all in black and white. If you can get the weight on them, they will pay you the price that’s promised," said Alan.

“The cattle are quiet and easy to work with, but some grow better than others and the bullocks achieve much better weights than the heifers.

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"They haven’t got the shape of a Limousin or a Blue, but it’s all about the marbling which attracts a premium if the carcase has good marbling. Warrendale stipulates the cattle should be finished on a cereal-based diet with no soya and they help formulate a ration with what’s available on the farm," he added.

Cattle that are bought in May and June are on grass with a supplementary feed of barley blend of 2.5kg a day. When they are housed they are fed a diet of 50% grass silage and 50% barley protein mix.

The cattle are weighed when they arrive on the farm and again when they leave. The Dickinsons do not choose the cattle, or sex of cattle they receive, although they can reject them.

Bullocks typically finish at 370-390kg deadweight while the heifers are going away at 300-320kg, which Alan said resulted in a variable total price per kg, but the heifers will have probably eaten less feed. The carcases grade O and R, and they are paid a premium on marbling of the eye muscle.

“With the cattle moving directly from farm to farm there is good biosecurity. Feeding home and locally grown barley also reduces the carbon footprint and the cattle are BVD tested," said Alan.

Advantages of the system for him is the guaranteed payment and being part of the interlocking chain of producers.